TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan, the world’s top corn importer, has tapped at least 330,000 tonnes of corn from emergency stockpiles after inventories fell to critically low levels due to a delay in shipments from the United States.
An official at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said on Wednesday it had received and approved applications from 11 feedmakers by end-February for the use of 340,000 tonnes of grains - including a small volume of wheat - from the 850,000 tonnes held in emergency stockpiles.
Blizzards, avalanches and heavy rain in the northwestern United States early this year have hurt the transportation of corn, soy and wheat to ports, causing lengthy delays to grain loadings in Japan’s main corn supplier.
A total of 17 Japanese feedmakers are required to hold the emergency stocks of feed grains, mainly corn, and need to seek approval from the government to use stocks in an emergency. The volume of 850,000 tonnes is equivalent to about a month of domestic demand, according to Takanari Ishibashi, deputy director of feed department at the agriculture ministry.
“Some mills are better stocked than others,” said Ishibashi. “Some may need to be doing a balancing act in early March, but we think they all can get through as there are enough remaining emergency stockpiles and more shipments are expected this month.”
Most of the feedmakers who tapped the stockpiles plan to refill inventories by around March 20. Others expect to do so by early April, he said.
The 340,000 tonnes is the biggest monthly volume sought for use of emergency stockpiles of grains since the government adopted a new stockpiles system last April, Ishibashi said.
But Japan tapped more than 750,000 tonnes of emergency stockpiles in 2011, when a massive earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan disrupted supply chains and caused the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
Amid the shortages, Japanese trading houses are scrambling to find immediate supplies from other countries, including China.
China’s COFCO Corp is in talks to sell a small cargo of corn to Japanese trading house Mitsubishi Corp, two sources said last month, a rare foreign sale of grain from the world’s No. 2 producer.
Japan is projected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to import 15 million tonnes in the 2016/17 crop year.
Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Richard Pullin and Kenneth Maxwell